August 05, 2013

St. Louis #Cardinals - looking ahead, initial offseason thoughts

No, no, no, I'm not worried about the Birds not making the playoffs.

However, a recent post in ESPN's SweetSpot, plus one or two recent lineup issues, got my creative juices flowing on a few things. Those creative juices had started a week or two ago, but this led them to a new stage.

First, going to the ESPN piece, which focused on the Cards' near-sweep by the Pirates and why.


Among other things, speed kills, and so does lack of it, in baseball.

Not that I totally disagree, or totally agree, with Earl Weaver's ideas about small ball in general, but the Cards have only about 30 stolen bases on the year, last in the league, and that may be part of what hurt them against the Pirates. They're horrible on double plays. Of course, not all of those are due to lack of speed. There's been a couple of DPs on bad baserunning ideas on fly balls, just as there's been a lot of poor baserunning outs on the bases after outfield hits. Hello again, Matheny; that's your baby. Baseball-Reference doesn't have a rank on GIDPs, but the total of 104 ain't great.

And, as ESPN notes, the (lack of) speed kills elsewhere:
That team speed spread shows up in the defensive numbers as well. The Pirates are third in the majors with 48 Defensive Runs Saved (entering Wednesday's action) while the Cardinals rank 26th at minus-33. (Matt) Holliday, who botched a fly ball into a home run on Tuesday, has been the biggest liability at -11 runs, but center fielder Jon Jay also grades poorly at -10. 
And, with Carlos Beltran both getting older, and a free-agent to be, the Birds could be facing a major OF overhaul sooner rather than later. It may be time to trade Holliday in the offseason, presumably to an AL team. And some Birds fans will probably need to stop the love affair with Jay (and David Freese).

And, that ties to my main earlier thought.

I had been thinking that this offseason might be a good time to trade Holliday, presumably to an AL team where he can get at least an occasional day at DH. And I was thinking that even before his hamstring injury.

Look, he isn't going to get any better, or quicker, as an outfielder, and he's already in the "safest" OF spot. I can't see him learning 1B, and in St. Louis, that wouldn't do a lot of good anyway. Yes, you could move Allen Craig to left, but that still blocks out Matt Adams from becoming the new regular at first.

So, if Holliday can rebound from the dip that started before his injury, and get his end-of-season BA to near .290, slugging to .480 and OPS to .850, and he does well in a decent postseason run, without "pushing" him, the team needs to drop a hint or two, or more, as a run-up to Hot Stove League time.

Beltran? If Holliday gets traded early enough, and depending on what comes in return and what positions the Cardinals might want, maybe they won't let him walk. He'll certainly get the one-year "tender" offer, so the Cards will get the compensatory draft picks if he does move on.

But, maybe the Cards should look to keep him on two years plus an option. (I wouldn't write him a straight three-year contract, though.)

His future depends not just on the Cards trying to move Holliday if they're smart and being successful if the team gets the right offer, but what it decides to do with Jay. Even in his previous seasons, he was not THAT much above replacement level offensively, nor was he THAT great of a defensive center fielder. This year, he's below average on both sides of the coin.

He's not tradeable for a lot of return right now, but, if you do move Holliday and get back all non-OF parts, it might be better to keep Beltran. Craig still goes to left, if Adams is to be the full-time 1B, and Jay then has to beat out Oscar Taveras in spring training. Besides that, given that in somewhat limited, but not too limited, time, Shane Robinson last year was as good as Jay is this year, and Robinson this year is better than Jay this year, the Birds have yet other outfield options. That's not to mention that Taveras isn't the only good OF prospect in Memphis. So, I see no reason to have any specific pre-spring training commitment to Jay as the team's starting center fielder for 2014.

So, for a certain segment of Redbird fans, that's one love affair you need to get over.

The other is David Freese. I blogged last offseason that the team should have considered making him part of a package for the Yankees' C.C. Sabathia, knowing their infield needs. Even with CC's recent struggles, I stand by that idea. On OPS+, he's exactly at replacement level right now. And, he's not that good of a fielder. Plus he's headed toward his second year of arbitration. If the Cards are lucky he, like Holliday, will have a late-season push and that plus his 2011 heroics will make him attractive to bidders.

You all know the drill here. Matt Carpenter goes to third and Kolten Wong gets called up to play second. The infield in general gets stabilized.

And, that's especially true if, in one of these deals, Pete Kozma gets replaced by a better SS. Hell, a 36-year-old post-surgery Rafael Furcal would possibly still be better, depending on how much he wants in free agency.

He would also offer more speed than Kozma, a sad reflection indeed.

And speaking of, Taveras would offer a minor speed upgrade over Jay, and Wong a definite one over anybody on the current Cardinal roster.

But, as I noted above, a number of the Cards' baserunning problems, especially earlier in the season, have been or were due to boneheadedness. There's no rookies among the position regulars, and they all have enough experience this shouldn't happen.

So, in the offseason, besides wheeling and dealing players, maybe John Mozeliak needs to ask if manager Mike Matheny needs a better coach or two. Hey, he's only in his second year, but, it's not too early to criticize him here and there. Bernie Miklasz is spot-on about him overplaying Yadier Molina, and he said this for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

So, trading to boost speed, boost infield defense, and get younger in a couple of spots, all at the same time, doesn't have to be too hard.

And, if Furcal can be signed on the cheap and nobody wants to let go of a shortstop, the trades can focus on further bolstering the pitching staff. Especially if Jaime Garcia's comeback is iffy, I certainly wouldn't mind another left-handed starter. And, to dream high, if his name isn't Sabathia, maybe it's Cliff Lee.

Tyler Lyons has not impressed so far, and I don't expect that to change the rest of this year, or next year. John Gast will be coming off surgery, like Garcia.

So, there you go, Mo. Get us a better SS if  Furcal's not OK, and not brought back. Get us a lefty starter. And, get Matheny to the next level. (To be honest, I had wanted Terry Francona to replace LaRussa.)

None of this is rocket science, and the trades can be win-win, or at least win-not lose.

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